Before I travelled to Cuba, the notion of Casas Particulares to me was just a general term for a homestay, a nice and more local alternative to the usual hotels/hostels that the majority of tourists, travellers and holiday makers alike use as a form of accommodation. Little did I realise just how significant a concept the Casas Particulares in Cuba has become.
These government-run ‘homestays’ have all but taken over in Cuba as not just the most economical, but most popular and rewarding way of travelling for the majority of tourists visiting the island. It has especially taken off in the last few years since 2011 when bureaucratic regulations relaxed, allowing some Casas to turn into a kind of private business employing staff and even advertising online where possible. It’s definitely a hugely positive step in the ever evolving economy of the country.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that you see the familiar Casa Particular logo hanging off almost every other house on every street, even in the smallest of rural villages. I think we really did underestimate just how much these places would shape our perspective of the towns and cities we stayed in and how much of a fascinating insight into real everyday Cuban life they would give us. It really is like a wide spread community throughout Cuba and quite unique to, I believe, anywhere else in the world.
For our two week trip around Cuba, we arrived into Havana having just the first three nights booked. Going against the advice of many friends and colleagues did worry us slightly – and especially knowing just how busy Cuba is all year round, let alone February being one of the busiest seasons to travel. In terms of booking the first few nights accommodation, it did help to have a recommendation from a colleague who had travelled to Cuba recently and who couldn’t recommend the Hostal Peregrino enough (this one actually has three Casas throughout the city – I stayed at the Consulado and would definitely recommend). Equally there is plenty of information online if you prefer to do your own bit of research before you go.
For the rest, it really was up to the Casa community to sort us out!
The Casas around Cuba really are more than just a place to stay and can range from really well maintained hotel/hostel-like accommodation with all the normal facilities you’d expect from a hotel room to a single extremely basic spare room in someone’s tiny house. They’re normally somewhere in between the two but towards the latter.
Once you get to your first destination, whether or not you have a route in mind, your hosts will organise everything for you (or as much or little as you want). After literally five minutes of arriving, they had organised everything for us. From bus station or airport pick ups, to booking accommodation at your next place, organising day trips and excursions and preparing breakfast and home cooked meals in the evenings – some of the best food we ate in Cuba.
Top tip: Always carry with you the business card of the Casa if they have one or a scrap of paper with your Casa address written down on it. We realised this a bit too late one day in Baracoa after a quick change of plan and asking to be dropped off in the town rather than ‘home’ as, after an overnight bus and a morning river excursion, we were ravenous for something to eat. It wasn’t till after lunch and a couple of hours wandering through the town that it dawned on us that asking a good few local tuk-tuk drivers – and all their friends – to take you to ‘Casa Roxanna’ without an address or any idea of its direction in even a small town like Baracoa was not an easy feat.
If you’re thinking about heading to Cuba anytime soon, definitely consider opting for the Casas as your way of travelling around the island. You can take from it what you want – it’s a chance to meet the friendly locals, practise your Spanish and really just experience real everyday Cuban life, which is what travel is all about and which is ultimately what made our trip there so unique and special.